Each month we choose one of the fantastic artists represented on our website to be our Artist of the Month.
This month it is Michelle Rodrigues who reveals how she uses the art making process ‘as an attempt to find answers’, recalls her first experience of the ‘class-based social milieu of the artworld’ and can find inspiration in the top front seat of a double decker bus.
Why and when did you start making art?
As a child, I was always making and creating things. So pursuing art after I’d left school felt like a natural pathway, although I wasn’t at all knowledgeable or aware of the “Artworld” in any way. I started a Fine Art degree course in Canada (where my mother lives), and attended two out of the four years. That was the first time I’d had any formal art education, although by UK standards, it was more of a foundation period.
I really loved engaging so immersively in art making process, and found that my creative processes came very intuitively and instinctively, although I found it hard to share and talk about it. For me, art felt like it was a very necessary, personal and therapeutic process… so it was sometimes difficult to engage in it from a formal critiquing perspective.
During my summer break I had returned to London, where I took up a temporary post as Gallery Attendant at the Royal Academy of Arts. This experience had a big impact on me. Having grown up in several different countries as a child, I was unaware of and inexperienced with the class divide that exists in England. My time at the Royal Academy was my first experience of the class-based social milieu of the “Artworld”, and I felt like a complete outsider. I deeply questioned who I might be making my very personal art for if I continued with my degree course… and because there was no one to process this dilemma with, I ended up leaving my course after the second year.
How would you describe your pieces?
My work is quite varied, with no distinctive style as such. I work in a variety of mediums, but probably feel most at home with painting and sculpture. In my paintings, I like to incorporate materials that have metaphoric resonance. Things like hair, ash, threads, lint etc. My work tends to be about identity and belonging. When I am working, I am usually engaged I some sort of exploration of a bigger issue or personal dilemma. I use the art process to attempt to find answers, or at least enter into some (silent) dialogue through the process.
Does your artwork follow set processes or does it vary?
It varies. Words can often play an important part in the process. There might be a quote that starts me off. I will often write poetry simultaneously alongside creating visual art. I tend to allow the process to dictate where I end up going with the piece… allowing intuition, inspiration and serendipity to lead the way.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by nature and also by the remnants of history that are everywhere in London. I love the idea of storytelling being a circular, never-ending process… and I love to find little visual clues to past events as I travel through the city. I also love people watching, and will try to take up residence at the front seat on the top deck of the bus so I can absorb everything that is going on.
What do you hope the viewer gets from your work?
I would hope that the viewer feels something when they see my work. That it would resonate with them on some level, or perhaps lead to their own personal reflections in some way. I don’t expect others to get from my work the same significance that the process and object holds for me, but I hope that the response is more than just aesthetic pleasure.
Is there an artwork you are most proud of?
There was a piece called “Ashes, Ashes” that I created many years ago, which I no longer have. It was a large vertical canvas, which I added several components to…and it kind of became something of a painting/assemblage. The piece started as a juxtaposition of two images – in this case it was a column and a bowl. The work process took on a life of its own – and when I look back I see that I was working through some very complex ideas about power, Empire and dominance and the more fragile, unesteemed value of sustenance, community and belonging.
I incorporated ashes and metal into the piece, and it was accompanied by one of my sponatenously written poems. To my mind, it encapsulated a great deal of sadness, loss and longing – a theme that tends to run through my work.
What are your hopes for the future?
My ability to make art has been hampered throughout my life by a variety of challenging circumstances. I have only recently returned to art making, after a long time of absence. My hopes is that I will find a kindred community of like-minded artists to share time, space and ideas with – and that I might develop a holistic and sustainable art-making practice.